STATEMENT OF THE HONORABLE ROBERT J. DOLE
June 20, 1966
Mr. Dole: Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of S. 1160, which would clarify and protect the right of the public to information.
Since the beginnings of our Republic, the people and their elected Representatives in Congress have been engaged in a sort of ceremonial contest with the executive bureaucracy over the freedom-of-information issue.The dispute has, to date, failed to produce a practical result.
Government agencies and Federal officials have repeatedly refused to give individuals information to which whey were entitled and the documentation of such unauthorized withholding--from the press, the public, and Congress--is voluminous.However, the continued recital of cases of secrecy will never determine the basic issue involved, for the point has already been more than proven.Any circumscription of the public's right to know cannot be arrived at by congressional committee compilations of instances of withholding, nor can it be fixed by presidential fiat.At some point we must stop restating the problem, authorizing investigations, and holding hearings, and come to grips with the problem.
In a democracy, the public must be well informed if it is to intelligently exercise the franchise.Logically, there is little room for secrecy in a democracy.But, we must be realists as well as rationalists and recognize that certain Government information must be protected and that the right of individual privacy must be respectedIt is generally agreed that the public's knowledge of its Government should be as complete as possible, consonant with the public interest and national security.The President by virtue of his constitutional powers in the fields of foreign affairs and national defense, without question, has some derived authority to keep secrets.But we cannot leave the determination of the answers to some arrogant or whimsical bureaucrat--they must be written into law.
To that end, I joined other members of this House in introducing and supporting legislation to establish a Federal public records law and to permit court enforcement of the people's right to know.
This bill would require every agency of the Federal Government to "make all of its records promptly available to any person," and provides for court action to guarantee the right of access.The proposed law does, however, protect nine categories of sensitive Government information which would be exempted.
The protected categories are:
(1)specifically required by Executive Order to be kept secret in the interest of the national defense or foreign policy;
(2)related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of any agency;
(3)specifically exempted from disclosure by statute;
(4)trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from any person and privileged or confidential;
(5)interagency or intra-agency memoranda or letters which would not be available by law to a private party in litigation with the agency;
(6)personnel and medical files and similar files, the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy;
(7)investigatory files compiled for law enforcement purposes except to the extent available by law to a private party;
(8)contained in or related to examination, operating, or condition reports prepared by, on behalf of, or for the use of any agency responsible for the regulation or supervision of financial institutions; and
(9)geological and geophysical information and data including maps, concerning wells.
The bill gives full recognition to the fact that the President must at times act in secret in the exercise of his constitutional duties when it exempts from availability to the public matters that are "specifically required by Executive order to be kept secret in the interest of the national defense or foreign policy."
Thus, the bill takes into consideration the right to know of every citizen while affording the safeguards necessary to the effective functioning of Government.The balances have too long been weighted in the direction of executive discretion, and the need for clear guidelines is manifest.I am convinced that the answer lies in a clearly delineated and justiciable right to know.
This bill is not perfect, and some critics predict it will cause more confusion without really enhancing the public's right to know.In my opinion, it is at least a step in the right direction, and as was stated in the Monday, June 19 issue of the Wichita Eagle: